Don Regan: An Appreciation

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

Don Regan: An Appreciation


Byline: Paul Craig Roberts, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Without Donald Regan's strength and loyalty, Ronald Reagan would have been a less successful president.

After Mr. Regan was nominated as Treasury secretary by President-elect Reagan, he asked me to stop by to see him. He would need a strong supply-side team, he said, if he was to succeed in his task of getting Mr. Reagan's controversial new economic policy out of the administration and through Congress.

Mr. Regan was concerned that he might not get the team he wanted because he had read press reports that some supply-siders had preferred a different candidate and were unhappy with his nomination. He was also concerned about the low pay of sub-Cabinet jobs. In his matter-of-fact way, he laid it on the line: supply-siders had sold the president on a new policy and it was their responsibility to come help him deliver the goods.

Mr. Regan realized that we were in for an uphill fight. Supply-side economics was not widely understood, least of all by the Republicans. Moreover, the Republican establishment had no stake in a policy identified with outsiders like Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan. George Bush had called it "voodoo economics," and this was the opinion of important Republican senators.

The economics profession was against it. Keynesian economists did not believe that the economy could grow without causing higher inflation. They were convinced that a budget deficit from tax cuts and military spending would cause the existing double-digit inflation rate to explode. Fed Chairman Paul Volcker had the same opinion.

Mr. Regan had no illusions: "It's the president and the Treasury against the world."

Mr. Regan could have taken the easy path. He could have tried to talk Mr. Reagan out of going forward with a controversial new policy. He could have assembled a team lacking the determination to succeed with the contested policy. Instead, Mr. Regan set out to achieve what the president wanted.

The 1981 tax cut was a near-run thing. It almost did not get out of the administration. After it became law, those who continued to oppose the tax cut worked to have a repeal effort announced in Mr. Reagan's 1982 State of the Union address.

They failed, but the experience left Mr. Regan frustrated with President Reagan's lax management style. OMB Director David Stockman and White House Chief of Staff James Baker had tried to box in Mr. …

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